The World around us is a vast and interesting place! There are so many people, cultures, customs, foods, animals and languages to learn about.
Having had a love of travel and learning about other countries since I was was young, I have always incorporated learning about the World into my classroom program.
I’ve found time and time again that even the newest 5 year old is excited to learn about the World around them! Feedback from parents has been really positive and many have commented they wished they had done this kind of learning at school.
So let’s look at some fun and effective ways I’ve found to help my classes learn about the wider World…
ePals Classroom Exchange
I have used ePals for over 10 years now. My class absolutely loves to Skype our ePal teacher in Tennessee, USA to ask about her day (and if she has seen any raccoons!)
She has taken us on a tour of the school and the children have loved noticing and comparing the many similarities and differences.
We use a service called SeeSaw to record videos and easily send photos back and forth with our ePals. Each morning when we do our class calendar we talk about the day and date and then figure out what the current time/day it is in Tennessee for our ePals.
This often leads onto discussions such as the different seasons, and what might be happening for our ePals – e.g. they are sleeping while we are at school. I really recommend finding an ePal class to connect with, it is lots of fun.
Another alternative tool to connect with classrooms around the country and the World is Empatico – which looks amazing, but I’ve not used as yet.
Each Wednesday morning we start our day with what I call “Wondering Wednesday” – something which the children look forward to all week.
The themes are chosen in various ways – perhaps something that has come up in a book or discussion, a question from one of the children, a child sharing their experiences of a holiday, or something that I know of that I think the children will enjoy.
Our recent “trips” have taken us to Machu Picchu, the canals of Venice, and looking at the different ways children live around the world.
On that last point, the children were amazed seeing all these kids bedrooms from all different countries, and it prompted a fantastic discussion about what we need in life – even going into what we want, versus what we really need. Some pretty deep concepts for 5 and 6 year olds!
We use YouTube, photos, books and talking to people to find out information, and to kick start our discussions.
We then also follow up our learning later that day at writing time – using the themes we have covered as writing prompts. This has been an excellent method to allow the kids to think about the World cultures and differences/similarities we have touched on in multiple ways throughout the day.
We have made postcards by drawing a picture of the place and writing a postcard to their parents telling them what we have seen and how to say hello and goodbye in the native language.
We print photos from the country or monument and use them as picture prompts. The children can write a non fiction report about the place or a fictitious story about visiting it.
We have also written poems and tour guides for others to read. The children learn words from these new languages and it also exposes to them to different genres of writing in an authentic way – and in a far more engaging way than many other methods of teaching different types of writing for most kids.
I’ve observed children taking their learning into their play, one recent example being constructing the international space station out of Lego and using vocabulary such as “docking station” – clearly demonstrating that by taking the time to delve into numerous places around our World (and even places orbiting our World as in this example!) results in the kids eagerly soaking up all the new concepts we are learning about, broadening their horizons in the process.
Other children were recently seen making canals out of egg cartons and floating the “gondola” they had made down the Venetian canals – fantastic!
We have explored many Wondering Wednesday topics, so lets see some great examples that the kids have absolutely loved to learn about.
We have looked at how children in different countries get to school – with these Chinese children scaling cliffs to reach their classroom being one of the most popular! This really opened their eyes to how different life can be around the World for other children.
As mentioned previously the kids also loved learning about the International Space Station. We started by brainstorming things that the children were curious about, such as how the astronauts would brush their teeth – and we then had a great tour around the inside of the station via this YouTube video to give them a view into the astronauts life.
Another discussion that clearly had a great impact on the kids, was the World Vision “Walking in Sabina’s Shoes” mini documentary on YouTube.
This delved into how tough even the simplest things in life such as getting some clean drinking water can be in some areas of the World, which most of my class had no idea about until we went through this lesson.
We would regularly pause the video to discuss what we were learning, such as moments where the children realized that she was having to collect dirty muddy water for their family to use. It was very obvious that these realizations really hit home, and allowed them to understand just how lucky they were in their own lives.
This brought about some wonderful discussions about how we could help others less fortunate than ourselves.
Songs and Dances
I incorporate songs into our day during circle time when we are all together as a class – and also when the children are working quietly on their art or topic work.
One of our favourites is Kids World Party by Putumayo Kids (Amazon).
We sing songs from around the world to learn new vocabulary. The children love to sing along and listen out for certain words and phrases that they now understand or recognize.
A good example of this is the French Greetings video, Bonjour Bonjour :
Multicultural Books and Stories
Books with themes from around the world have always been well received by my classes.
Over the years I’ve made a concerted effort to find books that are very relatable to the kids, many with a focus on school life (or the daily life of a child) in countries all over the World.
I’ve found also that books that feature easily recognizable landmarks (especially illustrations) such as the Eiffel Tower bring excitement to the children, and help keep them engaged.
Some books that my class have enjoyed are:
Cultures of the children in the class
I love to celebrate and acknowledge the different cultures in our class.
We have a display on our wall which the children enjoy looking at often. I prepared a poster for each child, including their country name, flag, capital city and location using a map.
I asked their parents to send me photos of their children in their home country which I included on the wall. Imagine the excitement the children had when seeing photos of their travels and adventures in their home countries, and being able to share the stories with their classmates.
One photo that caused great excitement was of a student patting a baby lion in her home country of South Africa. She was so happy to explain to the children that she could see zebra and giraffes walking freely around out in nature.
I also included posters of simple phrases in the different languages. We celebrated Chinese New Year, and any special days/events relevant to the countries with parents sending in resources for their children to share with the classmates.
The children love to share their cultures and be the expert on their home country.
It’s no surprise that the sharing of traditional food and sweets was another popular occasion in the classroom!